LESS than a month after Economy Minister Pavol Rusko swore to entice foreign investors into Slovakia and appointed his man to the top post of the national investment development agency SARIO, an investigator has charged the new SARIO boss Ján Bajánek with fraud.
The Slovak daily SME reported that, while serving as head of the board of trustees of the non-profit fund Dialog, at a secondary grammar school in Sučany (Žilina district) from 1999 to 2000, Bajánek fraudulently transferred Sk580,000 (€14,000) to the account of his own firm, Business Communication Bratislava.
Bajánek denied the charges and said that they were only a media war that SME has waged to ravage his credit and harm Rusko, who had appointed Bajánek less than a month before. Bajánek has sued the daily.
The Slovak Police's Stanislav Ryban has confirmed that charges of embezzlement have been brought against Bajánek. If he is found guilty, Bajánek could be jailed for up to five years.
Rusko, who sacked Bajánek's predecessor, Ladislav Balko, on October 16 for what he called "the deficient operation of SARIO", refused to comment on Bajánek's difficulties until the investigation is completed.
SARIO, which was launched in 2000 as a one-stop shop for investors, bringing together the resources of six ministries and the National Property Fund (FNM), is currently working on 109 investment projects worth almost €3.3 billion.
In its series of articles about Bajánek, SME wrote that in the past, the SARIO boss was supposed to take the top post of the private TV company Markíza, founded by New Citizens' Alliance (ANO) boss Rusko. Bajánek was also a cofounder of the American Chamber of Commerce in Slovakia.
When asked about his background, Bajánek told The Slovak Spectator that he also served as head of the US embassy's library in Prague and adviser to the former Czechoslovak deputy PM for foreign and economic diplomatic relations in the early 1990s. He is also a founder of one of Slovakia's leading consulting firms, Andersen Consulting (Accenture). Bajánek has also listed the IT firm Gratex International and the power producer Stredoslovenské energetické závody as part of his professional history.
According to SME, between 1987 and 1989, Bajánek collaborated with the Communist secret police ŠtB. However, he considers the information irrelevant, saying that, in that time, anyone who spoke four foreign languages and worked at the US embassy was registered by the secret police.
At his most recent press conference on November 11, Bajánek could no longer contain himself and called for the SME journalists who reported on the charges brought against him to leave the room, calling them "media terrorists". He even called the series of articles a "consciously led negative campaign" and claimed that the daily has been throwing its "undigested excrements" onto his "good credit".
The editor in chief of SME, Martin M. Šimečka, objected to the language used by Bajánek. "Mr Bajánek is a state servant, he is leading a state-run agency, and he must endure it when the media are interested in his past. We wrote only what is true, and I do not understand why he would want to sue us," Šimečka told TA3 television news.
Bajánek maintains that the "campaign" was intended to harm Economy Minister Rusko.
The ruling coalition partners of ANO are disturbed by the turmoil around Bajánek. Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) boss Béla Bugár said "it is not good when people who are facing charges hold high posts."
SARIO plays a key role in communicating with foreign investors: assisting them in finding partners for joint ventures.
Between October 2001 and September 2002, SARIO managed to attract more than 30 investment projects worth €335 million that created 6,500 new jobs.
The agency was instrumental in attracting PSA Peugeot Citroen's €700 million investment, announced in January 2003.
18. Nov 2003 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová